Imagine waking up sweating through your third shirt of the night, your body is shaking, skin clammy, teeth chattering, perhaps you’re hallucinating. Then, just as you think it is over the vomiting and nausea kick in, until … that fix enters your veins.
This need for a fix haunts heroin users, every second, of every day that they are not high. Even for the lucky ones who finally seek help, the road to rehabilitation can be brutal and often unsuccessful.
This couldn’t have been more real for 24-year-old Evan Reinhardt who grew up here, was part of the New Canaan High School Class of 2009, and who died from a heroin overdose in New Haven, Conn., July 15, 2015.
The story of this New Canaanite begins long before his wisdom tooth surgery that would perhaps change his life forever and ends shortly after leaving his fourth attempt at rehabilitation to find the final fix of his life.
Paul and Marge Reinhardt, Evan’s parents, said their son was the type of kid everyone wanted to be around. “Evan’s elementary school years were a true blessing. His family enjoyed his energy, wit, and sensitivity. Evan always had a smile on his face, and he blossomed at East School,” Paul said.
Evan played soccer, hockey, and football as a kid. He also enjoyed hiking with his family.
He would matriculate through Saxe Middle School, where he was bullied about his weight and was occasionally reluctant to attend school, according to Paul.
Evan chose to attend high school at Canterbury School, a private boarding school in New Milford, Conn. for two years. He finished high school at New Canaan High School and would go on to study at Miami University, of Ohio.
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Where did things go wrong?
“The summer between 8th and 9th grade was a critical summer,” Paul said. “He used the neighborhood behind the YMCA as a place to go and was exposed to alcohol and drugs.”
“That experience of going to a boarding school was an initiation into using drugs more and being exposed to people that even talked about prescription pills,” Paul said. “I remember reading an AOL instant message where a friend of his said, “Well, I took one pill and started to feel good, took the second pill and laid down on the grass because I was spinning.”
Although Evan was supervised closely by Canterbury staff, he had plenty of access to alcohol and drugs, just as he had at Saxe Middle School and New Canaan High School, according to Paul.
“He had behavioral issues that we now realize were anxiety and depression; then he’s exposed to boarding school and the fact that you can self-medicate,” Paul said.
“My wife and I realized we made a mistake because we couldn’t keep a close watch on him.”
Paul said, “He wanted to have a great life where ‘I can drink, I can smoke, I can get by because I’m smart and I have a lot of friends.”
Evan told the New Haven-based young adult rehab center, Turning Point — now Turnbridge — in its June 2015 newsletter, “I used to justify it by saying that was all I would ever do; I said I would never touch pills or powder and try to keep it natural.”
The article commended Evan on graduating Turning Point’s Preparative Care program in May 2015.
After coming to New Canaan High School, Evan began experimenting with other substances such as prescription medication at age 16.
By his freshman year of college, Evan was using prescription pills every day and had developed a physical addiction, according to the newsletter.
“He goes to college, drinks beer, smokes pot. We all agreed as a family that he has it under control,” Evan’s father told the Advertiser. In Evan’s first semester of college, he made the dean’s list. “That was an indicator to us, ok, well things are fine. He’s not an addict. That could have been naivete on our part.”
“Before I really knew it, I had become physically dependent,” Evan told Turning Point. “I had to start selling pills to support my habit and after that year I had failed a bunch of courses.”
Evan told a friend in a social media message that he was excited about getting his hands on a tranquilizer that is used by veterinarians, according to Paul. Looking back, Paul suspects Evan was snorting Adderall too.
Beginning of the end
Although Evan had experimented with prescription pills before, his parents were adamant that his problem with opioids exploded shortly after he had surgery to remove four wisdom teeth between his freshman and sophomore year of college. Paul said, “The doctor at the time, I think just to keep us from coming back and asking for more, gave us a prescription for 60 pills of hydrocodone” — an opioid pain medication.
“Had he ever tried prescription pills before?,” Paul asked. “Probably, of some kind. But this was an opioid and he had a whole bottle.”
Although not limited to adolescents, the non-medical use of prescription pills is now an epidemic, claiming more lives than heroin and cocaine combined and recently surpassing the annual number of deaths from traffic accidents, according to a fact sheet released by Shatterproof — a national organization committed to protecting individuals from addiction to illicit and prescription drugs, and alcohol.
This exponential growth among all age groups is tied directly to the massive increase in legitimate prescriptions written by doctors, Shatterproof says.
“He was loaded with Oxy. I think that was the beginning of the end,” Marge said. “Now, I would tell parents, when doctors give that stuff to your kids, just throw it out.”
“Advil or that kind of medication is fine for most [wisdom tooth] surgeries,” Paul said.
After that, Evan was hooked. “From the time that he went to college, within a year and a half to two years he was addicted to heroin,” Paul said.
After his sophomore year at Miami University, Evan came home, and within a few days he was pulled over for a traffic violation in New Canaan and the police found pot and Xanax — used to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
Evan could not return to Miami for his junior year until he fulfilled his court requirements.
Now a family issue
“We were concerned about that and we confronted him about it. I also checked his room and found pills that included suboxone” — primarily used to help addicts fight opioid addiction.
“Then we knew he really had a problem,” Paul said. “It became a family issue and at this point, it was a family disease.”
“I was dealing with a son that I knew before,” Marge said, “but then there was the other side, the dark side, that grabbed a hold. It’s hard to think that he was the same person.”
While still on leave from college, Evan entered his first treatment center after he failed a drug test for probation. Paul said that his son called his girlfriend to pick him up from the facility after just two weeks of treatment. Evan resumed using shortly thereafter.
Later that year, in 2011, Evan was in a serious car accident. Shortly after the accident, Evan was in detox — the process of abstaining from or ridding the body of toxic or unhealthy substances — once again in January 2012.
For the next two years, Evan lived in Vermont with his uncle, until November 2013 when his uncle found his stash of drug paraphernalia such as hypodermic needles.
“I was up in Vermont, getting jobs and getting fired,” Evan told Turning Point. “I was a terrible employee and person in general.”
That’s when Evan’s family said enough is enough and held an intervention. Evan was given an ultimatum, either homelessness or rehab. Evan chose the latter and headed down to Tennessee for a three-month rehab program. The cost of three stints of 28 days each in Tennessee was the equivalent of one year of college, according to Paul. Soon after completion, in a sober house, he relapsed.
Throughout treatment, Paul said that Evan continued to drink heavily and wasn’t taking treatment seriously.
“He always thought he could walk that fine line,” Marge said. “He was just doing what he needed to do to graduate.”
“It was a battle because a lot of times people with the disease are going to say hey, I can beat this, I’ll go into maintenance mode and take suboxone and I’ll still drink,” Paul said. “You have to go into complete sobriety.”
After Evan detoxed four times, his story seemingly reached a positive turning point.
Evan chose Turning Point in New Haven, Conn. because he knew a few friends who had come to the program and succeeded in staying sober.
“The day I came up here I was planning on having a friend of mine pick me up from the airport and I was going to start running [away],” Evan told Turning Point. “But they had a sober escort bring me here and they took my phone and my wallet once I showed up, which I was upset about, but ultimately I needed. I was just determined to get high that day.”
Evan began buying into the Turning Point program. “I was able to look at what I had done in my life and I realized I really hadn’t accomplished or contributed anything,” Evan told Turning Point. “It just took me time to not just realize all of that, but to also digest it and then make changes.”
He committed to a 12-step program where he developed a close relationship with his sponsor and built a network of sober friends. In phase III of the program, Evan started a job and began taking classes locally, according to the newsletter.
“Coming into Turning Point, I was completely deluded,” Evan told Turning Point. “I really felt like things were going decently well for me and I had good self-esteem about my life. Once drugs and alcohol were taken away, I went into this terrible self-loathing state. After coming here, I don’t feel like that anymore. I have a job that I take pride in and I’m getting A’s in my classes. I am okay with where I am at today and I don’t need substances to facilitate that feeling.”
Evan graduated from Turning Point in May 2015. “I was so proud when he was awarded his AA one-year sobriety coin and graduated from the Turning Point program. He had worked so hard on his recovery, and he was taking charge of his life,” Paul said.
“A year ago we were proud of Evan,” Paul said. “It was a four-year journey; where he came from denial to acceptance of his disease after fighting it for some time,” Paul said.
Paul said that Evan stayed in an apartment with two other sober friends that also graduated from Turning Point. “He had much more freedom,” Paul said. “Even though he has this great network of support there’s also all of the outside influences.”
In mid-June, the family went on a trip to Europe. “We couldn’t have enjoyed the time more with Evan,” Paul said.
Life was better for the Reinhardts, until less than a month later, when Evan’s parents heard a knock on the door Thursday morning, July 16 at approximately 2 a.m.
“There were two policemen standing there. They said, ‘We have some bad news, we got a call from New Haven police. Your son died from a [heroin] overdose.’”
“A chill goes down your back,” Paul said, “At that point, you are still in shock.”
“I can’t help but think that maybe when he found out I had cancer, that was a little bit of a trigger,” Marge said. She was diagnosed with throat cancer, July 1, 2015.
Paul told the Advertiser that, according to the medical examiner report, Evan also had Xanax and alcohol in his system when he died. An average of 2.7 drugs is involved in every fatal overdose, according to the Shatterproof fact sheet.
“We were talking to him that day,” Paul said. “He was somewhat upset because of a parking ticket he had gotten.”
“I didn’t realize that he had already lost his job at Turning Point,” Paul said. “That might have been because of his drinking.”
“On his last day he was alone, he died alone,” Paul said. “There were people he could have called. He didn’t ask for help, he didn’t do the 9-1-1 that he could have done. He had a sponsor for AA, he had people at Turning Point he could have called, he had his own parents.”
“They [phone records] basically stopped at about 5 p.m. Even though that they said the day of death was the [July] 15th it was actually Tuesday, the 14th. You could tell by the phone records and when they stopped.”
“Anywhere along the line I thought I could have reached out more. I can’t help but have regrets and guilt about it,” Paul said. “I was distracted with the health issue that was going on with my wife and having to take her to Yale-New Haven Hospital.”
“We hope good things can come of it, but I don’t want to forget him. I want to do whatever I can to try and help other people and save other lives. There are too many people dying from opioid addiction,” Paul said.
What other people thought
“I could have been more resourceful about placing calls to other people that may have had a chance of knowing more and not being afraid or concerned what other people thought about it,” Paul said. “Now I realize just how many resources are out there. They can start with the family doctor. For us as parents, there are other parents.”
Evan’s parents believe that addiction can be found anywhere and that the stigma of heroin should not be limited to impoverished areas. “There’s shame and embarrassment that goes with it. Nobody wants to say their son or daughter is addicted,” Marge said.
Paul told the Advertiser that a few warning signs of opioid abuse are: change in sleeping or eating habits, fluctuation of weight, stomach aches, anxiety, depression, and insecurity. Marge said she was finding caps for needles around the house and Evan went from being very social to antisocial rather quickly.
Paul provided to the Advertiser, a to-do list for parents and children alike seeking help with addiction:
- Use the web to access information:
www.drugfree.org and helpline: 855-378-4373
www.drugabuse.gov and treatment locator: 800-662-HELP
- Attend community forums, Al-Anon meetings and education sessions.
- Reach out to people you know, and start a dialogue. (ie. doctors, teachers, therapists and friends.)
- Start a weekly conversation in a local restaurant. In a low-key, confidential environment where you can share experiences and ask questions.
Paul offered to get the conversation started by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.